Feeding Soils: A Climate Change Solution

By Sara Jo Dickens, PhD., Ecology Bridge LLC

With carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gasses on the rise, reduced carbon emissions won’t be enough to address climate change. We need to pull carbon rich greenhouse gasses from the air and put carbon back into the ground through carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration captures carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis and stores it in plants and soils. Soils are the largest potential carbon sinks on the planet, however, sixty to eighty percent of the world’s soil carbon stores have been lost in the last 150 years.

To restore this lost soil carbon, researchers and ranchers are exploring carbon sequestration through holistic/high intensity rotational grazing. This practice uses higher numbers of livestock on small sections of land for short time periods. Rapid movement of livestock evenly grazes plants, leaves hoof imprints that capture rainwater, breaks down and pushes uneaten plant parts and seeds into the ground where nutrient cycling is increases and seeds can germinate and livestock waste returns nutrients to the ground. These changes drive greater plant diversity and soil microbe activity (the fungi, bacteria and soil critters that cycle nutrients) and increased soil carbon, nutrient concentrations and water holding capacity. Researchers estimate global soil restoration could sequester a third of global carbon emissions annually. Livestock are just one answer.

DYI: While livestock aren’t in every  backyard, we can find alternative ways to increase soil carbon. Mow or weed whip yards, evenly cutting plants, leaving clippings in place. Add compost to feed the soils, reduce water and fertilizer needs and increase soil carbon.  Whether we’re a farm, business or individual, we can be creative with ways to sequester carbon.